"Biblical Doctrine" by Dr. John MacArthur and Dr. Richard Mayhew (book review)

Drs. MacArthur and Mayhue teamed up to write an absolutely phenomenal, monstrous volume on biblical doctrine, which is a "systematic summary of Bible truth", as the subtitle suggests.  The book is divided into 10 chapters...but don't let that small number trick you...these are some very long chapters! well as lists of hymns and tables.

What I really liked about this book is its readability.  What I mean by that is this.  I've read some theological books that made my head spin.  One book in particular contained so many fancy words and ideas way above my head that it wasn't really all that enjoyable to read.  I had to have a dictionary handy!  But "Biblical Doctrine" is not like that.  Sure, there are some pretty lofty words and concepts, but I did not experience a sense of drudgery as I read through it.  The "headier" concepts, in my opinion, were explained very well.  To be sure, this book isn't particularly written for a new believer, but one must have at least a basic understanding of Christianity's theology.  But, if a reader is courageous enough, this volume would no doubt impart a vast amount of knowledge to him or her.

Now, for what I didn't like.  I received the e-version for free as a review copy.  I truly appreciate Crossway for giving it to me for free.  However, I think I need to buy the physical copy.  Reading it in Kindle is easy, but any further referencing is pert-near impossible.  Due to it's length, there are only shortcuts to the beginnings of each chapter.  So, if there's something one desires to look up, it will require much effort to find what it is one was looking for in the first place.

I need to explain one feature I liked before I explain a suggested improvement.  I liked the simple outlines of key words located on the very first page of each chapter, each of which briefly state what concepts will be covered in each chapter.  This makes the hunting for concepts much simpler, but would be much more user friendly if each of these introductory key words were quick-linked to their respective e-book locations.

Rating: Overall, I cannot help but give Biblical Doctrine 5 out of 5 stars for its value in the church, in personal studies, and its readability.  However, if you're going to Amazon to spend the $35 for the Kindle version, just do yourself a favor and pay the additional $8 for the hard copy of $41.  You'll be glad you did.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Crossway Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.

"The Life of the Church", by Joe Thorn (book review)

Well, this is it: the third and final book review of the church trilogy by Joe Thorn.  I was encouraged by all three books equally well, as each touched on important topics within the body of Christ.

The Life of the Church is, once again, a short, quick read, spanning only 106 small pages.  It is broken up into three parts: (1)The Table, (2)The Pulpit, and (3)The Square.  The Table focuses three chapters on the community of believers within the local church, namely "small groups" where life happens more organically.  The Pulpit focuses the reader on preaching and worship over four chapters.  Finally, The Square, surrounded the concept of evangelism, or "the church in the world".

I think the most important chapters in this little book -- while I found something beneficial in each one -- is chapter 5: The Word in Worship.  Sadly, many churches today use the Bible in minimal ways, reading only small snippets that offer surface level encouragement.  While this can be somewhat helpful, these snippets can be dangerously taken out of context.  Additionally, many pastors only read a verse or two in order to proof-text what it is they want to speak about, rather than mining it for its instruction and wisdom.  Thorn, in chapter 5 and the following chapters in the Part, does a great job drawing the reader's attention to how the entire worship gathering must be centered upon God's Word.

I truly believe that book 1 ("The Heart of theChurch"), book 2 ("The Character of the Church"), and book 3 (“The Life of the Church”) will be good resources for a church's bookstore and in new member classes.  They are simple reading, not requiring much effort or time.  But they inspire the desire to dive deeper into various issues of interest.  So, the book (and the series) is perfect for the busy person who wants to read good theology is that isn't too "heady".

RATING: I give "The Life of the Church" 5 out of 5stars.  You'll want to pick up all three books if you're going to pick up even one!
DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


"The Character of the Church", by Joe Thorn (book review)

In his first book, "The Heart of the Church", Joe Thorn discusses the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In this second book of the trilogy, Joe Thorn, who pastors Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois, discusses what makes a church a TRUE church.

A plethora of congregations gather each week under the guise of being a church.  They boast of spirit-driven worship, enthusiastic speakers, and even communion.  But do those things make a church one that is true and healthy?  In "The Character of the Church", Thorn discusses just what identifies a body of people as a "church", rather than merely a social club.  While Dr. Mark Dever lists what he believes to be nine marks of a healthy church, Joe Thorn boils it down to just five.

Each of the five makes up a single "Part" of the book:
   1) The word rightly preached
   2) The ordinances rightly administered
   3) Leadership biblically formed and functioning
   4) Discipline practiced with grace
   5) The mission shared by all

Within each Part, there are anywhere from two to four chapters that further describe the individual part.  Two of the chapters that had a profound effect on my soul dealt with baptism and communion (chapters 4 and 5).  I grew up in a denomination that merely expressed these two ordinances as observations and "remembrances", rather than as means of grace.  Thorn explains, "Although baptism does not save, it preaches the gospel, announces the truth of Jesus Christ, and as such is a means of grace when received by faith."  He continues, "Baptism is not merely a religious rite with rich symbolism.  It is one of the means that God uses to work in us and make us who we are in Christ" (p.49).  Likewise, "...the Lord's Supper conveys grace as it communicates the truth of the gospel and is received by faith" (p.52). 

I continue to believe that book 1 ("The Heart of the Church") and book 2 ("The Character of the Church") will be good resources for a church's bookstore and in new member classes.  They are simple reading, not requiring much effort or time.  But they inspire the desire to dive deeper into various issues of interest.

RATING: I give "The Character of the Church" 5 out of 5stars.  I look forward to reading the third and last book of the series.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


"The Heart of the Church: The Gospel's History, Message, and Meaning", by Joe Thorn (book review)

Joe Thorn writes, "The gospel is the heart of the church.  It's not simply one thing we believe, but the defining truth for the Christian and the church" (p.105).  Replaced by feel-good messages and motivational speeches, the true message of the gospel is missing in many churches today.  More and more professing Christians are growing increasingly biblically illiterate to even the fundamental truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And that is why I believe Thorn has written this book, which is book one of the series: The HEART of the Church, The CHARACTER of the Church, and The LIFE of the Church.

I first encountered Joe Thorn's writing in TableTalk magazine, published by Ligonier Ministries.  I typically wait to read the author's name in those articles until I've finished the article.  That way I'm not biased for or against any one author in particular.  I repeatedly find myself liking the articles he's written.  Why?  Because he writes so simply, but so very truthfully and thoughtfully.

This book is no different, and here's how I would describe it. Imagine Wayne Grudem's tome, "Systematic Theology", which is well over 1,000 pages long.  Single chapters on Justification, Sanctification, and Forgiveness, for example, can be quite lengthy and deeply described.  This one is just the opposite: It is very short, sweet, and simple.  While there are some big Bible words (i.e. doctrines) inside, Thorn does an excellent job explaining their meanings and import.

The book is broken down into three parts: (1) The History of the Gospel (3 chapters, 20 pages), (2) The Doctrine of the Gospel (6 chapters, 26 pages), and the (3) The God of the Gospel (5 chapters, 22 pages).  I was inspired and encouraged by chapter 8 on "Sanctification".  I agree wholeheartedly with Thorn when he writes, "Putting sin to death and pursuing righteousness is what sanctification looks like in the life of a believer" (p. 69).  Sanctification is something that simultaneously troubles and encourages me.  I don't want to just be forgiven.  I want to be different; radically changed.  I can trust that God will see my sanctification through, because the change that I crave is a work started AND completed by God Himself.  Thorn encourages readers, "Sanctification is the work of God in which we participate by His grace" (p. 67-68). 

This book -- and I'm fairly certain the series in whole -- will be one that churches WILL want to make available in their bookstores or reader kiosks.  It's that important for today's busy person who doesn't have or make much time to read good, trustworthy books.  (I completed this one in two relatively short sittings.)  I think "The Heart of the Church" should at least whet the appetite of Christians whom the Holy Spirit is pushing in sanctifying growth to be in God's word.  Thorn writes, "God does not do this work [sanctification] in us arbitrarily.  He does it through the ministry of the word."  I hope and pray this book will inspire many to get their noses into God's holy, inspired, and infallible word.

RATING: I give "The Heart of the Church" 5 out of 5 stars.  It is gospel-centered, clear, and concise.  Well done, Joe Thorn.  I look forward to reading the other two!

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.

Author Bio: Joe Thorn is the founding and Lead Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL. He has written two books, Note to Self: The Disciple of Preaching to Yourself, and Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God, and has contributed articles for the ESV Men's Devotion Bible, The ESV Story Bible, and The Mission of God Study Bible. He is currently writing a series of three books on the church for Moody Publishers.


"The Coming Apostasy", by Mark Hitchcock & Jeff Kinley (book review)

In their new book, Mark Hitchcock and Jeff Kinley discuss apostasy and its dangerous effects in the church.  The reader must first understand that Hitchcock and Kinley approach apostasy from the pre-millennial, pre-tribulation rapture point-of-view.  I'm not arguing for or against that view, but their approach is that the ever-increasing apostasy that is now already upon us is coming in greater intensity.

It is not a "heady" read, but is a rather simple read.  Mature believers who are familiar with Christian doctrine and theology will be able to speed read or skim through this book rather quickly.  For those who are not to that point, the information contained is quite worth reading and learning, and will be easy to understand without much struggle at all.

Some of the things I appreciate about this book is that they plainly tell the reader that theology -- what we believer -- really matters (p.18); that they explain further that while biblical belief matters, this belief cannot be merely "spiritual nodding of the head" (p.43); that having sound truth is our protection against the devil's lies (p.57); that they confront false teachers for what they are and for what they teach in their intentional or unintentional deceptions (p.59); and that they call sin what it is: sin (p.92)!

Some may wonder why I highlight these areas.  In a day and age when people twist the truth to make it palatable for their tastes, this book is refreshingly uncompromising in its presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There's not a lot I didn't like about it.  However, their use of the Message Translation of the Bible was troublesome to me.  Any preacher or author who quotes, cites, or otherwise uses the Message Translation instantly loses credibility with me.  It doesn't make me throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, but it is a trouble spot for me.  Clearly, the Message is not a reliable translation, as it distorts many key passages of Scripture.  To be fair, though, they didn't use it as the predominant source, but it was used frequently enough to make my eye twitch.

RATING: I give this one 3 1/2 stars.  Not a bad read, but not a fantastic read that challenged my thinking much at all.  That doesn't mean it's not a good read for someone, but it's simply that I would have been disappointed if I had spent the suggested retail price of $15.99 USD for it.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive or negative review of it.


"God the Son Incarnate", by Stephen J. Wellum (book review)

Make no mistake, "God the Son Incarnate" is a MASSIVE TOME on Christology...the study of Jesus.  Comprised of four parts, divided into 14 chapters, this volume was thoroughly researched.  How thorough, you ask?  There are 1,317 end note citations.  Simply phenomenal effort went into producing this book.

Dr. Wellum, who is the Professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, takes readers carefully, academically, deeply into the study of who Jesus the Messiah is.  He explores the harmful effects that philosophical, scientific, and religious evolutions in thought processes has had upon Christology, all the way to delving into the mystery of the distinctions between his divinity and humanity.

Don't be fooled, this one is no easy read.  It is very technical, scholarly, and not one that would be considered a "page turner" by most peoples' accounts.  However, if you're looking for a great gift for your pastor, or maybe a seminarian, this may well be one for their library.  It will no doubt prove to be an effective tool for their study.

RATING: I give "God the Son Incarnate" 5 out of 5 stars for its deeply scholarly, well researched documentation of Christology.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book in ebook format free of charge from Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review of it.


"Seven-Mile Miracle", by Steven Furtick (book review)

I'll be honest right at the outset: I requested this book for review, not because I especially like how Steven Furtick teaches (extremely charismatic, and light on the gospel of Jesus Christ) or writes, but because I wanted to read what he is presently up to; to read what is attracting people to Elevation Church (besides the quality of music they produce).  I read and reviewed another of his books ("Sun Stand Still") in the past, and I wasn't overly impressed.  So I fully expected this one to be very much the same.

If you've never read or listened to Steven Furtick, take a moment and watch any number of his videos. You'll learn that he is a gifted and passionate speaker who can easily captivate audiences.  Sadly, the majority of what he teaches (that I've ever read or watched) glazes over the gospel of Jesus Christ, misses sin, repentance, God's holiness and wrath, our need for a Savior, etc.  I tell you this to give you a little background before providing my review.

ENDORSEMENTS:  One can usually get a good idea about a particular title by looking at who endorses it.  I certainly would have passed right over "Seven-Mile Miracle", simply due to who endorses it.  The names include Lysa TerKeurst (Proverbs 31 Ministries), Judah Smith (The City Church, Seattle), Christine Caine, Brian Houston (Hillsong), Craig Groeschel (LifeChurch.TV), Andy Stanley (North Point Church), and T.D. Jakes (The Potter's House).  By the way, the endorsements page read at the top, "Praise for Other Titles by Steven Furtick" (emphasis mine). 
Would this suggest those whose names are listed didn't even read this book, but simply endorsed it because they are Furtick's friends?  I digress.

PREMISE: The title, "Seven-Mile Miracle", is a combination of two portions of scripture.  First, the road to Emmaus was approximately 7 miles long, and Jesus walked with two disciples on that road, speaking with them after his resurrection.  Second, there were 7 "last words" of Jesus on the cross.  Each mile (aka, chapter) of the "journey" is each successive utterance from the cross.

GOSPEL: I'll be honest, this book was chock-full of gospel proclamation - sin, repentance, holiness, etc.  It's there.  Readers cannot escape being confronted by the gospel of Jesus Christ in this book.  I can even say, I've scoured the book looking to find who wrote it for Mr. Furtick, because it simply sounds so unlike anything else I've seen from him. I will be the first to admit that I'd like to be wrong about Furtick.  I hope there is a change in what he speaks, that he would eschew the fluff message of hype that is so popular today, and that the Holy Spirit would inspire him to carefully teach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Time will tell.

CHAPTER 7: In the chapter entitled, "Into the Presence of God", I think Furtick would do well to be more careful about a particular application.  Furtick builds upon T.D. Jakes's prior teachings regarding being "Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given" (beginning on p.157).  In it, he structures a main point around the events of Jesus serving the Passover meal to his disciples, where he "Took bread", "Gave thanks", "Broke it", an "Began to give it to them".  Furtick and Jakes suggest this is a pattern seen in scripture. And since it's a pattern, it must also apply to us.

They suggest that as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus were each taken from a particular circumstance, blessed, broken by God, and then given to the people, our lives follow the same pattern.  While I think I understand the point attempted to be made, I think it is a potentially misleading or dangerous one.  Suggesting such a pattern is applicable to us may actually minimize the Messiah's brokenness in his crucifixion, because it fails to take into account that Jesus was fully crushed under the weight of the Father's wrath poured out on him for sin.  At the same time, such a pattern suggestion tempts us to elevate our "brokenness" as being on par with that of the Messiah's.

RECOMMENDATION: I think "Seven-Mile Miracle was decent. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.  It's not very deep, but it my be appreciated by those who are new to faith in Jesus Christ.  I still won't follow him or purchase his materials, but my rating of this book stands alone on its own merits.  I'm simply trying to give you an honest review.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Multnomah Publishers (Blogging for Books) in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review of it.


"Unlimited Grace", by Dr. Bryan Chapell (book review)

I received Unlimited Grace for review via Crossway's blog review program, and I must begin by stating that I absolutely loved it!  I devoured it, actually.  In an age when all sorts of false gospels and false Jesuses are proclaimed, this book is important.  

The overall theme of the book is to walk readers through a detailed, but easy-to-read-and-comprehend, understanding of biblical grace.  Many are tempted to believe that the experience of God’s grace gives license to sin freely without remorse.  But that is not the view of biblical grace, but one of cheap grace.  Instead, when a sinner experiences God’s amazing grace, s/he can’t help but love the people and things God loves, and therefore, live a life that pleases and honors Almighty God.

Dr. Chapell taught and reminded his readers that we cannot earn God's grace, but that He extends it to us because of His loving character.  This grace -- both common and special grace -- is what ought to drive people to the presence of God. 

I was inspired, challenged, and blessed by 20 of the book’s 21 chapters.  But I have to admit, I had to re-read chapter 20 two additional times.  It covered the ever challenging topic of hell.  Because I agreed with Dr. Chapell’s theology through the majority of the book, I admit I may have misinterpreted his intent.  Hence, the re-reads.
Questions I Pondered in Chapter 20:

He wrote at location 1984 of 3036 (because I read the Kindle version):
     “If escaping God’s judgment is all that motivates, then most are unlikely to love him as he requires.  Most peoples’ initial love for Christ stems from his rescue from the present “hell” of their earthly existence: loneliness, emptiness, guilt, shame, depression, slavery to addiction, relational trauma, and so on.  That is why Jesus was being true to the human experience as well as his spiritual task when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  He understood that the pains of this life could be as compelling as the threats of the next.”

   My concern is with the second sentence in the paragraph just quoted.  Here's why: Did Jesus come to merely save us from bad relationships, addictions, debt, and any other "despairs of this life"?  Or did he come to save sinners from God’s wrath, paying the penalty for our sins, and thus, making us holy and in right standing before God?  I lament that far too many people “come to Jesus" because they hope a "genie-in-a-bottle Jesus" will fix their ailing circumstances. 

On the heels of this passage, Dr. Chapell wrote at location 1994 of 3036:
    “Early in their Christian experience most people have no concept of what they have done that would deserve eternity in hell.  Even if they echo thoughts they have heard from a pulpit, or feel deep and profound guilt, few could identify why they would deserve an eternal hell of suffering for their sin.”

   Again, I may be misunderstanding Dr. Chapell here, for it appears that he suggests that a sinner can be truly converted apart from seeing the penalty their (our) sins deserve?  Is the kind of turning to Jesus for merely financial or marital healing the same as turning to – and trusting – Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, and to be made right with God?  Is “profound guilt” the same as Holy Spirit conviction that brings about true repentance and conversion?  Are those who "have no concept" of their sins’ due penalty truly converted?  The whole of Scripture teaches that true conversion occurs when a sinner recognizes his/her sin, is convinced s/he needs a savior, and trusts that Savior to be Jesus only, and that the sinner recognizes his/her need to repent of sin.

 I would prefer to ask Dr. Chapell these questions personally, but alas.  Nevertheless, I truly appreciate this book.

Rating: Other than the chapter written above, I truly liked the book.  Overall, I think this would be an excellent read for new and growing believers alike.

I give Unlimited Grace 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this ebook free of charge from Crossway Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and were not forced upon me.